I’ve been learning to play tennis. For the past 3 years or so. But definitely still on the “learning” side of the curve rather than the “playing” side of the curve. This spring, I am doing league play with the ladies with whom I have been taking lessons for a few years. It should be really fun (translation: I’m scared to death but I’ll still smile and pretend I’m not scared). No, really, it will be fun. But I put a lot of pressure on myself and I get really frustrated when I miss shots, or when I perceive myself to be playing below my expectations.
Today we had a lesson, and it ended up being just three of us plus our coach. We got into doubles play and I was paired up with our teacher. And I had to serve first. Have I mentioned I hate to serve? How I get so tense that I can’t even throw the $#@#@#-ing ball straight up in the air? And if you can’t serve, it is very hard to win points when you are the server. Very hard. So after whiffing several balls and hitting either for the stands or into the net, I told my partner/teacher that this was my tennis problem–I have trouble serving, I get tense and frustrated, and I have even more trouble serving.
“Why do you get frustrated?” he asks. I am sure I had on my best incredulous “duh” face. “I get frustrated because I can’t serve!” Dude, were you not listening? Did you not watch me just hit five balls into the net followed by one that nearly shattered a lightbulb?
To paraphrase, in his infinite wisdom, he told me that we should be frustrated when we have trouble doing something we know how to do, and that we are generally good at doing. For instance, he would be frustrated if his serve didn’t go in. He has been playing tennis a very long time. In fact, certain individuals (me) pay him to teach us how to play tennis. As a pro, he has earned the right to be frustrated if he has trouble serving. On the other hand, someone like me, who is learning how to play and admittedly struggles with serving, should not become frustrated when serves don’t go in. He tells me, “you are learning, so don’t be frustrated.”
So simple. But so very, very complicated.
How often do we have expectations for ourselves that are unrealistic, and yet we become frustrated, agitated, anxious, irritated, or depressed when (shocker!) reality doesn’t meet those expectations? How often do we do that to others–spouses, children, friends, co-workers, or just people with whom we cross paths on any given day? How much distress does that cause us, and others, when our expectations exceed reality and then we have the audacity to get upset? I could go on and point fingers, blaming the hurriedness of society or the disconnection of people in this age of technology… but I won’t. Ultimately, we can each make a choice each day to accept ourselves and others exactly as they are–with significant strengths but also significant limitations. Like my significantly limited serve. Should I allow that to define ME, and do I have the right to get irritated with a brain, eyes, and muscles that are not perfectly in sync? Or even beyond the question of whether or not I have that right, is it helpful? It definitely is not helpful. I’ve got a handful of bad second serves that can attest to the lack of helpfulness this provides me.
My goal for the rest of the day is to catch myself before I become short with others for not doing things as I expect they SHOULD be able to do them, or for not doing them EXACTLY the way I would wish them to. And to be more patient with my small ones as they wade through these struggles of learning new things every single day–to accept them where they are at and provide them with support with out rushing them. Cause really, they are EXACTLY where they are supposed to be RIGHT NOW. And that’s not just ok, that’s fantastic!